Insider's Guide 2017

Meet the Threatened Florida Scrub Jay

The population has declined 90 percent since the turn of the last century.

By Rick Morgan November 29, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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If you want an authentic Florida wildlife experience and you’ve already spied the obligatory alligator, head to Oscar Scherer State Park on a Sunday morning to join a guided Florida scrub jay walk. But tread quietly if you want to catch a glimpse of the pretty little blue-and-gray birds. Just 17 to 18 of them are estimated to call the nearly 1,400-acre state park off Tamiami Trail in Osprey home.

Florida scrub jays do not migrate and are the only birds that live exclusively in Florida (and one of only 15 bird species unique to the United States). As their habitat has diminished, their population has declined by 90 percent since the turn of the last century, earning them the classification of “threatened” from state and federal wildlife agencies.

The park’s oak flatwoods and sandy clearings make it the place to see scrub jays; rangers conduct controlled burns and manage the vegetation to preserve the habitat.

Bird sighting always involves a bit of luck, but rangers says visitors’ best chances are during the early morning and late afternoon. The open areas with scattered trees provide great visibility for spotting scrub jays.

Because many of the trees and birds are off in the distance, be sure to bring binoculars. But some visitors get closer sightings; the friendly birds have been known to hop on hiker’s heads and ride along for a bit. The park has 15 miles of trails and there’s an accessible trail for people with disabilities.

“Our scrub jays are beloved [by] everyone who works here,” says park services specialist Lee Hibbeler, who participates in monthly bird counts and is documenting the history of the scrub jay population at Oscar Scherer.

Guided Florida scrub jay walks leave from the Nature Center at 8:30 a.m. on Sundays and are included with your admission to Oscar Scherer State Park. For details, click here.

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